A snapshot of life in March 1989

Town unprepared for nuclear accident

A nuclear accident anywhere in Britain could leave emergency services in Watford stretched and local people subjected to radiation fallout. Watford is only 60 miles from the nearest nuclear power station and would almost certainly be affected by radiation in the event of a serious accident. Even if Watford did not suffer directly, it could be called on to help other towns that did. So say the results of a new study launched on Tuesday by Watford Borough Council and other local councils across the country. The council claims the research is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever carried out in Britain. It was prompted by a key question raised in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster: Could we cope if a similar scale nuclear accident occurred in Britain? The council is now pressing Government to start a radical overhaul of emergency arrangements for nuclear reactor accidents.

[March 3, 1989]

Yes, Your Majesty

Schoolgirls got 10 out of 10 for their curtsies when they welcomed Her Majesty the Queen Mother to Bushey on Tuesday. The nation’s favourite great grandma won an array of new fans when she visited the Royal Caledonian Schools to dedicate the refurbished dining hall which has been decorated with crests of Scottish Regiments. She unveiled a plaque before meeting pupils, school heads and members of the regiments represented in the décor of the Hall of Regiments. The Queen Mother, patron of the schools, tucked into a feast of highland music and dance and even joined in a birthday celebration for one lucky pupil.

[March 10, 1989]

New department store

More than 200 jobs will be created when Trewin Brothers’ department store transfers from its present site to the completed first stage of the Harlequin Centre in Watford. The Queen’s Road department store employs more than 400 staff at present – and the shop size is set to double after the 1990 move. Work on phase one of the Mars 1 project – to be named the Harlequin Centre – started in the autumn. As phase one finished the store will transfer to premises twice the size of the present one.

[March 17, 1989]

Life beyond Woolworths

Signs declaring shops do exist beyond Woolworths in Watford High Street have been put up by angry shopkeepers who have been hit by town centre construction work. In a letter signed by bosses of 13 shops along the High Street between Kings Street and Water Lane, Watford Borough Council is accused of neglecting the area, which now has an appearance of “almost bombsite dereliction”. Trade in the High Street opposite the Mars 1 Harlequin Centre development has been hit by the effects of construction work. Builders moved on to the site to start the £100million shopping centre in the autumn. It is to be built in two phases and is due to be finished in 1992. The number of new customers has dropped away to almost nothing and passing trade has been slashed. The sign was erected and paid for by members of the Lower High Street Traders’ Association in a bid to attract shoppers back to their end of the street.

[March 24, 1989]

Bank holiday blaze

A huge mushroom cloud of choking black smoke spewed up into the skies of Watford when more than 80,000 tyres went up in flames on Monday. The cloud climbed hundreds of feet into the air and could be seen up to 20 miles away, firemen who fought the blaze at a tyre depot in Water Lane, Watford, said. The blaze caused more than £325,000 damage and brought bank holiday sight-seers scampering from all corners of the district to get a closer look at the eerie black cloud. People living in Waterfields were evacuated and roads nearby were blocked by police to stop the inquisitive getting too close for comfort. The fire burned for more than 24 hours claiming three lorries, two cars, a mobile office unit and machinery, as well as the huge store of tyres.

[March 31, 1989]

Coffin in backyard

Archaeologists have described the discovery of a third century lead coffin in a private garden in St Albans as a “spectacular find of national significance”. The coffin was found by Verulamium Museum archaeologists during a rescue excavation which was known to contain part of a Romano-British cemetery site near King Harry Lane, St Albans. It is the first adult coffin to be found in St Albans for several centuries and it dates from the late third century. It constitutes the most important single find from Roman Verulamium for nearly 30 years.

[March 31, 1989]

What was happening in the world in March 1989?

• After 74 years, Iceland ends its prohibition on beer, celebrated since as bjórdagur or beer day (March 1)

• The Purley station rail crash in London leaves five people dead and 94 injured (March 4)

• Iran breaks off diplomatic relations with the UK over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (March 7)

• Tim Berners-Lee produces the proposal document that will become the blueprint for the World Wide Web (March 13)

• Mass demonstrations take place in Hungary, demanding democracy (March 15)

• The Civic Tower of Pavia, built in Italy in the 11th century, collapses (March 17)

• Clint Malarchuk of the NHL Buffalo Sabres suffers an almost fatal injury when another player accidentally slits his throat (March 22)

• The Socialist Republic of Serbia passes constitutional changes, triggering six days of rioting during which at least 29 people are killed (March 23-28)

• Rain Man wins Best Picture at the 61st Academy Awards (March 29)